Revolutionising robotics with material innovation

24th November 2023
Sheryl Miles

The robotics sector is witnessing a paradigm shift and a large part of that is fuelled by advancements in materials science.

Traditional robots, which are often composed of metals and rigid plastics, are now being reimagined with softer, more adaptable materials. Indeed, the publication Nature Materials highlighted that the future of robotics is, partially, soft – and it is innovative material science at the core.​

This transition signifies a crucial move towards robots that can operate more effectively in unstructured environments.

Enhancing robotic capabilities

Smart materials are changing what it is that robots can do. These materials, capable of responding and adapting to their surroundings, increase the 'IQ' of robots, making them more agile and responsive. BBVA OpenMind discusses the potential of smart materials, noting their responsiveness and complexity – opening up new possibilities for robotic applications, and allowing machines to perform tasks with greater precision and adaptability.

Soft robotics

Protolabs details a new era soft robotics in its manufacturing report, which utilises deformable and flexible materials. This new generation of materials, such as elastomeric materials including natural and synthetic rubbers and silicones, offers an alternative to the traditional rigid structures of robotics – enabling robots to manoeuvre and interact in ways that were previously challenging or thought impossible.

Designing for the future

The design of robotic materials is also undergoing a transformation, and Northwestern University's Centre for Robotics and Biosystems is actively designing materials for new robotic capabilities – focusing on electrically-driven soft actuators and liquid crystal elastomer artificial muscles​​. These innovations in material design are vital for the development of robots that can operate in diverse and challenging environments and expanding the boundaries of what these robots can achieve.

The ongoing evolution in the materials and design of robotics is an important and exciting step in advancing its capabilities in the field. By embracing new materials and forward-thinking designs, the robotics industry is setting the stage for the inclusion of more adaptable, intelligent, and versatile robots, capable of performing a wider range of tasks and operating in more complex environments. Not only does this evolution enhance the capabilities of robots, but it also opens up new possibilities for their application in various sectors, in anything from industrial manufacturing to healthcare.

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